When thinking of neon, it’s easy to imagine all the bustling cities with vibrant nightlives. The image of neon wall signs hanging outside an establishment probably appears in your mind. Or you envision the futuristic spaces in Tron: Legacy or the harsh red glare of a lightsaber.
Most of us see the world of neon signs as a simple advertising scheme or just plain room decor. But there is more to neon than that. Believe it or not, the neon aesthetic has also influenced art.
Let’s find out how the creation of neon lights changed the art game overnight.
What is Neon Art?
Neon art is exactly what its name tells you: it uses neon lights and signs in various works of art. Its vibrant color and luminous glow are used to deepen and enhance the meaning behind art installations. While there isn’t a singular overarching theme for neon art, most pieces are often associated with motion and interactivity.
The production of neon signs and lights is an art, with how its glass tubes are meticulously crafted and shaped by hand. While neon itself only emits a red-orange glow, neon sign makers have found a way to create these lights in different colors, giving artists the freedom to choose the shades they need for their works.
Since it is a fairly new art style, neon art only has two main forms: text-based and mixed.
- Text-based Form - These pieces are words and letters written in neon signs. While they seem direct and straightforward, other elements such as color, spacing, and style enrich the artwork.
- Mixed Form - In mixed form, artists incorporate neon into traditional art media and everyday objects. Contrary to text-based works, neon is merely an ingredient and not the entire dish in mixed form pieces. Artists use neon tubes and signs in their paintings and sculptures.
Origin of Neon Wall Art
Surprisingly, neon lights and signs have been around since the early 1900s. The creation of the luminescent lamp is credited to the French innovator Georges Claude, who first showcased neon lighting at a motor show in 1910. He found a more convenient way to obtain neon, trapped the gas in glass tubes, and made its molecules glow.
The Roaring Twenties
Claude’s invention would draw international attention and receive massive acclaim, leading to the introduction of neon signs in America by 1930. While it was mainly used as signage for advertising during the 1920s to 30s, a few artists quickly realized how revolutionary it would be to use neon light as a creative medium.
The earliest neon art piece was created in 1934 by the Czech artist Zdeněk Pešánek. Apart from his anatomical artworks, he is known to incorporate neon tubes in his abstract sculptures. One of his most famous works involves a sculpted human torso with neon tubes sticking out from its surface.
The Swinging Sixties
Despite this strong start, neon wall art would not dominate the art scene again until the 1960s. This brief fall is heavily associated with the beginning of the neon phaseout. Neon lights needed to be produced by hand, and many thought their production was too costly and time-consuming, hence the decline.
Fortunately, artists such as Martial Raysse, Dan Flavin, and Bruce Nauman reintroduced neon tubes in art, creating “Peinture à Haute Tension,” “The Diagonal,” and “The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths,” respectively.
Bruce Nauman, in particular, largely contributed to developing the neon art style by spearheading the words-in-neon form. In 1965, Joseph Kosuth created one of the most iconic neon pieces called “Neon,” a white neon sign simply spelling out its title. This artwork is often associated with the structuralism movement during the time.
Contemporary Neon Art
As time went on, neon art steadily increased, and many artists continued to integrate neon art with other art movements. For instance, Fiona Banner’s “Neon Full Stop” in 1997 features a single neon dot, representing minimalism.
Furthermore, the ambitious group Young British Artists (YBA) revitalized neon art in the 21st century. One of their artists, Tracey Emin, made neon art collections discussing themes such as love and sexuality and social topics like sexism and feminism.
5 Neon Artists to Get Inspiration From
Simply knowing about its history isn’t enough to satisfy a true creative’s heart. We have to delve deeper and recognize a few prominent artists that shaped and continue to influence the neon art scene. Here are a few neon art geniuses and their iconic works that can inspire you.
With Nauman and Kosuth, Keith Sonnier was one of the artists who dominated the art world in the 1960s with his neon works. Together with everyday materials like satin and sheer fabrics, he experimented with both incandescent and neon lights.
His neon series “Ba-O-Ba” consisted of several art installations made with neon tube lights, colored red, blue, and yellow, attached to rectangular and circular glass panes or aluminum plates. He completed this collection in 40 years.
Sonnier also created the abstract sculpture “Palm: Saw Tooth Blatt,” which was heavily inspired by his childhood and earlier experiences in his hometown.
As mentioned, Tracey Emin is one of the more well-known neon artists in the 21st century. Her collections frequently revolved around societal topics and issues that she had experienced. Her core themes include female sexuality, love, desire, grief, loss, and self-reflection.
Most of her neon wall signs are short, simple quotes and everyday phrases, like her famous “I know, I know, I know” piece and her “I Promise To Love You” collection. Her artworks are often seen as poetic and moving.
What makes her art stand out is how each neon sign is crafted and shaped to the likeness of her handwriting. Apart from her sensitive and deeply personal themes, this style choice makes her works seem more vulnerable and open, allowing the viewer to connect with the art fully.
While most neon artists showcased their art in signs or incorporated it into different creative media and objects, Jung Lee decided to use the beauty of nature to her advantage. The South Korean photographer is known for capturing text-based neon art installations in various landscapes.
Like Emin, Lee explores several human-centered topics, such as love and hatred, in her 2010 “Aporia” series. She even delves into political issues, as seen in her “Bordering North Korea” collection in 2005, which featured various jarring phrases juxtaposed with the calm sceneries of the country’s border.
She also collaborated with Maroon 5 and is responsible for the album art of their fifth studio album, V.
Cerith Wyn Evans
Influenced by film, literature, music, and philosophy, Cerith Wyn Evans uses neon lighting and space to express his ideas. The Welsh artist is known for his site-specific art pieces, meaning his works are designed specifically for certain locations.
His recent art exhibit, “Aspen Drift,” features suspended and isolated neon sculptures and installations which aim to invoke the feeling of floating and being adrift, hence the exhibit’s name. “Forms in Space… by Light (in Time)” is another notable neon sign art by Evans. It features an amalgamation of white neon scribbles, lines, and shapes suspended in the air.
Another prominent neon genius is Iván Navarro. The Chilean artist designs neon installations to criticize sociopolitical issues. Most of his artworks offer gut-punching statements. Navarro created his first works during the Pinochet dictatorship, and Navarro used fluorescent and neon lights to symbolize truth and hope in his pieces.
His work “Death Row” features a row of colorful neon-lighted doorways, which aimed to critique the issue of capital punishment in the United States in the early 2000s. Lastly, his “Red and Blue Electric Chair,” a chair made entirely of neon tube lights, was designed to give his message: “neon is fragile, but it can electrocute you.”
Get Creative with Your Neon Lights at Neonize
Knowing about neon art and its different artists might have tickled your creative imagination and convinced you to hang your neon art sign in your room.
If so, Neonize has a wide selection of neon signs and lights that can illuminate and decorate your space. We have neon signs for home decor, businesses, events, and even holidays!
You can also create a custom neon sign with us. Send your custom design, and we’ll neonize your sign for you!
Browse through our collection and find the perfect neon sign for your own wall today!